City of Cortland, NY
Cortland County
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
[HISTORY: Adopted by the Common Council of the City of Cortland 10-19-2010 by L.L. No. 5-2010. Amendments noted where applicable.]
GENERAL REFERENCES
Building construction and fire prevention — See Ch. 100.
Rental housing — See Ch. 102.
Dangerous buildings — See Ch. 104.
Graffiti — See Ch. 150.
Property maintenance — See Ch. 220.

§ 107-1 Legislative findings; purpose.

It is the finding of the Common Council that buildings which remain vacant, with access points boarded over, are unsightly, unsafe and have a negative effect on their surroundings. This is particularly troublesome in residential and neighborhood-commercial neighborhoods. Unfortunately, many buildings, once boarded, remain that way for many years. The purpose of this chapter is to establish a program for identifying and registering vacant buildings; to determine the responsibilities of owners of vacant buildings and structures; and to speed the rehabilitation of the vacant properties.

§ 107-2 Definitions.

Unless otherwise expressly stated, the following terms shall, for the purpose of this chapter, have the meanings indicated in this section:
ENFORCEMENT OFFICER
A duly authorized representative of the Code Enforcement Office.
OWNER
Those shown to be the owner or owners on the records at the City of Cortland Assessors Office, those identified as the owner or owners on a vacant building registration form, a mortgagee in possession, a mortgagor in possession, assignee of rents, receiver, executor, trustee, lessee, other person, firm or corporation in control of the premises. Any such person shall have a joint and several obligation for compliance with the provisions of this chapter.
RESPONSIBLE PARTY
Those shown to be the owner or owners of the records at the City of Cortland Assessor's office, those identified as the owner or owners on a vacant building registration form; a mortgagee in possession; a mortgagor in possession; a mortgagee upon the filing of a lis pendens and/or an action, the purpose of which is to foreclose upon the mortgage or similar instrument that secures debt upon the real property; assignee of rents; receiver; executor; trustee; lessee; other person; firm; or corporation in control of the premises; of any real property which is in violation of this chapter shall be a responsible party for compliance with the provisions of this chapter.
[Added 10-21-2014 by L.L. No. 8-2014]
SECURED BY OTHER THAN NORMAL MEANS
A building secured by means other than those used in the design of the building.
UNOCCUPIED
A building which is not being used for an occupancy authorized by the owner.
UNSECURED
A building or portion of a building which is open to entry by unauthorized persons without the use of tools or ladders.
VACANT BUILDING
A building or portion of a building which is:
A. 
Unoccupied and unsecured;
B. 
Unoccupied and secured by other than normal means;
C. 
Unoccupied and an unsafe building as determined by the Code Enforcement Office;
D. 
Unoccupied and has multiple housing or building code violations;
E. 
Illegally occupied;
F. 
Unoccupied for a period of time over 180 days, and during which time the Enforcement Officer has issued an order to correct code violations.

§ 107-2.1 Responsibility for compliance.

[Added 10-21-2014 by L.L. No. 8-2014]
It is the responsibility of each owner to maintain their property in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. Where applicable, tenants or lessees shall receive enforcement notices in connection with enforcement; however, the owner is ultimately responsible for compliance with this chapter.

§ 107-3 Registration; maintenance; inspections; notice; remedial action by City.

A. 
The owner shall register with the Code Enforcement Office not later than 30 days after any building in the City becomes a vacant building or not later than 30 days after being notified by the Code Enforcement Office of the requirement to register. The Code Enforcement Office may identify vacant buildings through its routine inspection process as well as through notification by residents, neighborhood associations and other community groups that a building may be eligible for inclusion on the registry.
B. 
The registration shall be submitted on forms provided by the Code Enforcement Office and shall include the following information supplied by the owner:
(1) 
A description of the premises.
(2) 
The names, mailing address, e-mail address and telephone numbers of the owner or owners.
(3) 
If the owner does not reside in Cortland County or in a county contiguous with Cortland County, the name, mailing address, e-mail address and telephone numbers of any third party with whom the owner has entered into a contract or agreement for property management within a twenty-five-mile radius of the City of Cortland.
(4) 
The names, mailing address, email address and telephone number of all known lienholders and all other parties with an ownership interest in the building.
(5) 
A telephone number where a responsible party can be reached at all times during business and nonbusiness hours.
(6) 
A statement whether the building is currently insured by a policy of fire insurance and, if so, the name, address and telephone number of the insurance company and the insurance agent and the amount of the coverage. If the building is not currently covered by fire insurance, the owner shall set forth the reason(s) why it is not so covered.
(7) 
A vacant building plan as described in Subsection C.
(8) 
The name, street address and telephone number of a natural person 21 years of age or older, designated by the responsible person as the authorized agent for receiving process, in any court proceeding or administrative enforcement proceeding, on behalf of such responsible party or parties in connection with the enforcement of provisions of this chapter. This person must maintain an office in Cortland County, NY, or must actually reside within Cortland County, NY. An owner who is a natural person and who meets the requirements of this subsection as to location of residence or office may designate himself as an agent. By designating an authorized agent under the provisions of this subsection the owner is consenting to receive any and all notices under the provisions of this chapter, the responsible party is consenting to receive any and all notices of code violations concerning the registered real estate and all process in any court proceeding or administrative enforcement proceeding brought to enforce code provisions concerning the registered real estate by service of the notice or process on the authorized agent. Any responsible party who has designated an authorized agent under the provisions of this chapter shall be deemed to consent to the continuation of the agent's designation for the purposes of this subsection until the responsible party notifies the Code Enforcement Office of a change of authorized agent or until the responsible party files a new annual registration statement. Any responsible party who fails to register vacant real property under the provisions of this chapter shall further be deemed to consent to receive, by posting at the real estate any and all notices of code violations and all processes in an administrative proceeding brought to enforce code provisions concerning real estate.
[Added 10-21-2014 by L.L. No. 8-2014]
C. 
The owner shall submit a vacant building plan which must meet the approval of the Enforcement Officer. The plan, at a minimum, must contain information from one of the following three choices for the property:
(1) 
If the building is to be demolished, a demolition plan indicating the proposed time frame for demolition.
(2) 
If the building is to remain vacant, a plan for the securing of the building, along with the procedure that will be used to maintain the property and a statement of the reasons why the building will be left vacant.
(3) 
If the building is to be returned to appropriate occupancy or use, a rehabilitation plan for the property. The rehabilitation plan shall not exceed 365 days, unless the Enforcement Officer grants an extension upon receipt of a written statement from the owner detailing the reasons for the extension. Any repairs, improvements, alterations to or demolition of the property must comply with any applicable zoning, housing, historic preservation or building codes and must be secured as per local code, if applicable, during the rehabilitation.
D. 
The Enforcement Officer shall provide the owner with a written referral to the Office of Community Development for information outlining programs available which may be useful in developing the owner's rehabilitation plan.
E. 
All applicable laws and codes shall be complied with by the owner. The owner shall notify the Enforcement Officer of any changes in information supplied as part of the vacant building registration within 30 days of the change. If the plan or timetable for the vacant building is revised in any way, the revisions must be in writing and must meet the approval of the Enforcement Officer.
F. 
All vacant buildings shall be kept secured or shall be kept boarded up, both as defined in Subsection F(1), and shall be maintained in accordance with Subsection F(2) of this section. Also, once a building has been vacant for a period of three months or more, its owner shall provide evidence, as described in Subsection F(3) of this section, that said owner is proceeding in an expeditious manner to remove the building from its vacant status.
(1) 
The term "secured," for the purposes of this section, shall mean that all means of ingress and egress, including but not limited to all doorways and windows, shall be in a good state of repair, without any broken glass or other damage that might allow entry or create an eyesore, and shall be securely locked. Any building that is not so secured shall be promptly "boarded up," meaning that all means of ingress and egress at all floor levels shall be covered over, as specified hereinafter, so as to ensure the continued security of the building and to reduce the negative impact on the neighborhood. Boarding up shall be done by utilizing the following minimum materials and methods unless another equivalent system is proposed in writing and approved by the Code Enforcement Officer:
(a) 
Exterior-grade plywood or sheathing-grade particle board, at least 1/2 inch thick, shall be used for boarding material. It shall be cut to fit neatly into each opening so that it covers the entire window or door frame but does not overlap onto the adjacent wall surfaces.
(b) 
Openings in excess of three feet wide shall be braced by installing at least one two-inch-by-four-inch wood stud, or equal, at the midspan and for the full height of the opening.
(c) 
The boarding material shall be secured to the building by sixpenny (minimum size) coated nails spaced no more than six inches on center at the edges and 12 inches on center at any intermediate bracing, except that one doorway shall be secured in such a manner that it can provide access to the building by authorized persons. If such door contains any glass panels or wood panels less than one-inch thick, it shall be entirely covered with boarding material.
(d) 
The door shall be secured with at least two keyed locks, and its hinges shall have concealed fastenings.
(e) 
All boarding material shall be finished on the exterior with one coat of primer and two coats of exterior-grade paint in color matching that of the adjacent walls.
(f) 
The secured building shall be provided with adequate ventilation to prevent the accumulation of moisture which might deteriorate the finishes and the structure. Adequate ventilation shall be deemed to be a minimum of two louvered and screened ventilation openings, each having an opening size of at least 144 square inches and placed in opposite walls of the building at the uppermost floor level. Interior doors at all floor levels shall be left in the open position in order to allow circulation of air. If circulation of air within and between all floors is not possible using only two vents, then additional vents shall be installed to achieve such circulation.
(2) 
In addition to securing or boarding up the building, the following minimum requirements shall be met for all vacant buildings:
(a) 
The roof shall be structurally sound and weathertight. Any damaged or missing rafters, decking or roofing materials shall be repaired or replaced with equivalent material but in no case less than two-by-six-inch wood rafters, one-half-inch-thick exterior plywood and ninety-pound roll roofing, respectively, all installed in a workmanlike manner.
(b) 
All combustible trash and debris shall be removed from the building. Any portions of the exterior of the main building or accessory buildings, including but not limited to walls, porches, stairs, parapet walls and chimneys, that are deteriorated so as to be in danger of collapse or to otherwise constitute a hazard or allow penetration of water into the building shall be repaired or replaced or otherwise made safe and weathertight.
(c) 
The grounds surrounding the building shall be cleared and kept cleared of all litter, rubble, debris, trash and junk and of all grass or weeds in excess of six inches in height.
(3) 
When it is required by this chapter that a building be boarded up, it shall be the responsibility of the owner to have the electric and gas service, if any, temporarily shut off from the building by contacting the power provider's customer service. Service may not be reconnected until repair and rehabilitation work or occupancy actually commences.
(4) 
All plumbing and heating systems that contain water shall be completely drained and kept empty between October 15 and April 15, and an antifreeze solution shall be added to all plumbing traps in the building. This shall not apply if the building is adequately heated during that time period.
(5) 
The owner shall arrange to provide access to the interior of the building by representatives of the Code Enforcement Office to inspect for compliance with the requirements above that pertain to the interior. However, the Code Enforcement Officer shall not conduct such an inspection without the consent of the owner, unless the Code Enforcement Officer has first obtained a warrant from a court of competent jurisdiction.
(6) 
The owners of buildings which for any reason remain vacant for a period of three months or more shall be subject to the procedures of this section. By the end of such three-month time period, the owner of the vacant building shall demonstrate to the Code Enforcement Office that said owner has taken all positive action to abate the vacancy of the building in an expeditious manner. This action may include but is not limited to:
(a) 
Applying for and obtaining a work permit to repair and rehabilitate the building, or to demolish it, and proceeding with the work in a timely fashion;
(b) 
Providing competent evidence that the building is listed for sale by a licensed realtor and is being advertised for sale at least once a month in a local newspaper or other journal. Should the property remain unsold six months after the initial listing, the responsible party shall provide the Code Enforcement Offices with a current market analysis that provides evidence that the property's listed sales price is reasonable. Thereafter the responsible party shall furnish the Code Enforcement Office additional market analysis each six months thereafter that the property remains unsold. The responsible party shall adjust the listed sales price to reflect each market analysis.
[Amended 10-21-2014 by L.L. No. 8-2014]
(c) 
Providing a proposed schedule of action to undertake repair and rehabilitation of the building, including a detailed financial plan for its accomplishment.
G. 
The Code Enforcement Office shall examine or cause to be examined every building reported as unsafe, damaged or vacant and shall make a written record of each such examination. He/she shall have inspected once a month, or as frequently as is necessary, all buildings that are vacant or abandoned so as to ensure that they are properly secured or boarded up and maintained.
H. 
Whenever the Code Enforcement Office shall find a building or structure or a portion thereof to be an unsafe or vacant building, he/she shall give the owner, agent or person in control of such building or structure written notice stating the defects thereof. This notice shall require the owner within a stated time either to complete specified repairs or improvements or to demolish and remove the building or structure or portion thereof.
I. 
If the Code Enforcement Officer finds that there is actual and immediate danger of failure or collapse so as to endanger life, such notice shall require the building, structure or portion thereof to be vacated forthwith and not reoccupied until the specified repairs and improvements are completed, inspected and approved by the building official. The Director of Code Enforcement shall cause to be posted at each entrance of such building a notice which includes the statement: "This building is unsafe, and its use or occupancy has been prohibited by the Director of Code Enforcement, City of Cortland." Such notice shall remain posted until the required repairs or demolition is completed. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation, or their agents or other servants, to remove such notice without written permission of the Code Enforcement Officer, or for any person to enter the building except for the purpose of making the required repairs or of demolishing the same.
J. 
In the event that an owner or other interested party fails, neglects or refuses to comply with a notice to repair or remove a dangerous building or structure within the time limits specified in the notice provided for herein, the Code Enforcement Officer shall, upon order of the Common Council, promptly cause the affected building or structure to be repaired or removed. For this purpose he may at once enter such building or structure and with such assistance and at such cost as may be necessary.
K. 
The Code Enforcement Officer may vacate adjacent structures and protect the public by appropriate barricades or such other means as be necessary and for this purpose may close a public or private way. For this purpose, a vacant building or the grounds around it that is so poorly maintained that, in the opinion of the Code Enforcement Officer, the property is in violation of any applicable state or local property maintenance regulations shall also constitute such an emergency empowering the City to take responsive action under this chapter.
L. 
Costs incurred by the City in connection with proceedings to repair or remove a building or structure, as provided under Subsections J and K of this section, including the cost of actually repairing or removed the same, shall be assessed against the land on which said building or structure is located and shall be collected by the Director of Administration and Finance in the same manner as other special assessments are collected. Failure of the owner or any subsequent owners to maintain the building and premises that results in remedial action taken by the City shall be grounds for revocation of the approved plan and shall be subject to any applicable penalties provided by the law.
M. 
The Code Enforcement Officer shall cause such vacant buildings to be inspected on a quarterly basis and shall notify the owner or agent, at the address filed with the Code Enforcement Office, of any accumulation of trash, debris, rodent infestation, the failure to keep said building secured or other violation of law, ordinance, City or state code or regulation at the premises.
(1) 
The owner shall have seven days from receipt of said notice to correct such conditions, unless the Code Enforcement Officer is of the opinion that a vacant building or any structure is, for any cause, dangerous to the health, safety and welfare of the public or is unfit for occupancy, in which case the provisions of Chapter 104 of the Code of the City of Cortland shall apply.
(2) 
If the owner fails to correct such conditions, the City may enter on the property, correct said condition and assess the cost of such work against the property.
(3) 
Assessment of any costs incurred by the City for such work performed by the City to correct violations at said property shall be carried out pursuant to § 1-22 of the Code of the City of Cortland.
N. 
New owners shall register or re-register the vacant building with the Enforcement Officer within 30 days of any transfer of an ownership interest in a vacant building. The new owners shall comply with the approved plan and timetable submitted by the previous owner until any proposed changes are submitted and meet the approval of the Enforcement Officer.
O. 
The responsible party shall comply with, and the property shall be subject to, all provisions of Chapter 220.
[Added 10-21-2014 by L.L. No. 8-2014]

§ 107-4 Fees; liability insurance.

The owner of a vacant building shall pay an annual fee as set forth in Subsection A, as amended from time by resolution of the Common Council, for the period the building remains a vacant building. The fee shall be reasonably related to the administrative costs for registering and processing the vacant building owner registration form and for the costs of the City in monitoring and inspecting the vacant building site.
A. 
The first-year annual fee shall be $250 and shall be paid no later than 30 days after the building becomes vacant. If the fee is not paid within 30 days of being due, the owner shall be subject to prosecution as prescribed in § 1-22 of the Code of the City of Cortland. If a plan is extended beyond 365 days, subsequent annual fees shall be paid as follows:
[Amended 10-21-2014 by L.L. No. 8-2014]
(1) 
For the second year that the building remains vacant: the lesser of either $5,000 or the annual aggregate of City, county, and school property taxes. Should the responsible party remedy to the satisfaction of the Code Enforcement Office, all conditions which caused the building to be defined as "vacant," per § 107-2, by the end of the second year, all fees paid for the second year shall be reimbursed.
(2) 
For the third year that the building remains vacant: the lesser of either $10,000 or twice the annual aggregate of City, county, and school property taxes. Should the responsible party remedy to the satisfaction of the Code Enforcement Office, all conditions which caused the building to be defined as "vacant" per § 107-2 by the end of the third year, all fees paid for the third year shall be reimbursed.
(3) 
For the fourth year that the building remains vacant: the lesser of either $15,000 or thrice the annual aggregate of the City, county and school property taxes. Should the responsible party remedy to the satisfaction of the Code Enforcement Office, all conditions which caused the building to be defined as "vacant" per § 107-2 by the end of the fourth year, one-half of all the fees paid for the fourth year shall be reimbursed.
(4) 
Starting in the fifth year and continuing each year thereafter that the building remains vacant: the lesser of either $20,000 or quadruple the annual aggregate of City, county and school property taxes.
(5) 
If a fee permitted by the provisions of this chapter is not paid by December 31 of the year in which it is levied, such fee shall be added to the real property City tax rolls chargeable to said property and shall be collected in the same manner as any unpaid real property City tax.
B. 
The fee shall be paid in full prior to the issuance of any building permits, with the exception of a demolition permit. The fee shall be prorated, and a refund may be issued if the building is no longer deemed vacant under the provisions of this chapter within 180 days of its registry.
C. 
All delinquent fees shall be paid by the owner prior to any transfer of an ownership interest in any vacant building. If the fees are not paid prior to any transfer, the new owner shall pay the annual fee no later than 30 days after the transfer of ownership, and subsequent annual fees shall be due on the new anniversary date.
D. 
The party responsible for any building that has become vacant shall, within 30 days, acquire or otherwise maintain liability insurance in an amount of not less than $300,000 for buildings designed primarily for use as residential units and not less than $1,000,000 for any other building including, but not limited to, buildings designed for manufacturing, industrial storage or commercial uses, covering any damage to any person or any property caused by any physical condition of or in the building. Any insurance policy acquired after the building has become vacant shall provide for written notice to the Commissioner of Building within 30 days of any lapse, cancellation or change in coverage. The responsible party or the responsible party's authorized agent for service of process shall provide evidence of the insurance, upon request, to the Code Enforcement Office.
[Added 10-21-2014 by L.L. No. 8-2014]

§ 107-5 Filing of property-specific information.

The Enforcement Officer shall include in the file any property-specific written statements from community organizations, other interested parties or citizens regarding the history, problems, status or blighting influence of a vacant building.

§ 107-6 Exemptions from registration requirements.

A. 
A building which has suffered fire damage or damage caused by extreme weather events shall be exempt from the registration requirement for a period of 180 days after the date of the fire or extreme weather event, if the property owner submits a request for exemption, in writing, to the Code Enforcement Officer. This request shall include the following information supplied by the owner:
(1) 
A description of the premises.
(2) 
The names and addresses of the owner or owners.
(3) 
A statement of intent to repair and reoccupy the building in an expedient manner, or the intent to demolish the building.

§ 107-7 Access to buildings for inspections.

The Code Enforcement Department shall inspect any premises in the City for the purpose of enforcing and assuring compliance with the provisions of this chapter. Upon the request of the Enforcement Officer, an owner may provide access to all interior portions of an unoccupied building in order to permit a complete inspection. Nothing contained herein, however, shall diminish the owner's right to insist upon the procurement of a search warrant from a court of competent jurisdiction by the Enforcement Officer or his or her designee in order to enable such inspection, and the Enforcement Officer shall be required to obtain a search warrant whenever an owner refuses to permit a warrantless inspection of the premises after having been advised of his or her constitutional right to refuse entry without same.

§ 107-8 Annual reports.

The Code Enforcement Department shall submit a quarterly report, not later than April 15 of each year, to the Mayor and Common Council, listing all buildings in the City declared vacant under the provisions of this chapter, the date upon which they were declared vacant and whether a vacant building registration and vacant building plan has been filed for the building. The report shall additionally include a list of all previously declared vacant buildings which are no longer subject to the provisions of this chapter.

§ 107-9 Penalties for offenses.

Any person violating any provision of the vacant building registry or providing false information to the Enforcement Officer shall be punished as provided by § 1-22 of the Code of the City of Cortland as § 1-22 is amended from time to time.